The Bengals and Joe Burrow are the NFL’s new power couple

MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 22: Zach Sieler #92 of the Miami Dolphins sacks Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 22: Zach Sieler #92 of the Miami Dolphins sacks Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFL draft with a loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, all but assuring LSU’s Joe Burrow will come home next season

If Sunday was the penultimate day of the Andy Dalton era for the Cincinnati Bengals, it was quite a way to go out.

The Bengals quarterback threw for two touchdowns in the last 30 seconds of regulation, the last a 25-yard completion to tight end Tyler Eifert with no time left on the clock, to force overtime against the Dolphins in Miami. The Bengals are the first team to score two touchdowns in the last minute of regulation to tie since the Lions did it against the Titans in 2012.

Like those Lions, though, Dalton’s heroics were for naught as the Dolphins won the game 38-35 on a Jason Sanders field goal as time expired in overtime. The loss does come with a bit of good news for the Bengals. Dropping to 1-14 on the season, Cincinnati is now assured of having the first-overall pick in next April’s draft and the opportunity of adding a hometown hero and potentially franchise-saving quarterback.

Joe Burrow, an after-thought on most draft boards coming into the 2019 season, enjoyed a meteoric rise to be the prospective No. 1 pick after a history-shattering season at LSU. The senior threw for 48 touchdowns and 4,715 yards while completing 78 percent of his passes, leading the Tigers to the first seed entering Saturday’s college football semi-finals. He won the Heisman Trophy last week by a record-setting margin.

Burrow and the Bengals are a match destined to happen. He attended high school just 120 miles from Paul Brown Stadium in Athens, Ohio. He initially enrolled at Ohio State before transferring to LSU in 2018. He spoke emotionally about where he comes from while accepting the Heisman, recognizing what his success means for his community.

“Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” Burrow said in New York on Saturday with tears in his eyes. “There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot. And I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.”

Burrow’s impassioned ode to his hometown led to a charity drive that raised more than $370,000 for a food pantry following the ceremony. And after the Bengals pick him in April—which seems like a mere formality—he’ll have plenty of more opportunities to give back to the community from which he comes from.

The quarterback he’ll be replacing in Cincinnati is winding down a nine-year career under center for the Bengals. Dalton will finish his career as the Bengals all-time leader in completions and touchdowns and is second only to Ken Anderson in yards. But the Bengals, in their first year under head coach Zac Taylor, appeared ready to move on after benching him in favor of Ryan Finley in Week 10.

Dalton returned after sitting for three games to lead the Bengals to their only win of the season against the Jets in Week 13, the lone bright spot in an otherwise dreadful season. Cincinnati has one game remaining, at home against the Browns next Sunday, before finishing the worst season in franchise history. This will be the first season they’ve had the NFL’s worst offense since 2008. Sunday’s loss guaranteed that 2019 will be the first time they’ve failed to win a game on the road since 1993.

The Bengals have other concerns other than Dalton. They gave up 440 yards in regulation on Sunday, a season-high for the Dolphins, and allowed opposing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 419 yards, the second-most allowed by the Bengals over the last 14 seasons. But Dalton is the one who’s going to take the blame for the disastrous season. The Bengals can free up $17 million in cap space if they release their franchise quarterback by June 1.

So while Dalton only has one game left to play in a Bengals uniform, he gave fans in Cincinnati a good show on Sunday. All they can hope for now is for the hometown kid to ride in and save the day, and the franchise.

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